The Green Party
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Last spring, I tried growing an herb garden on my kitchen windowsill. It was going to be fantastic: I was going to have chives and basil anytime I wanted for my spaghetti sauce and cheddar scones. I bought a plastic mini-greenhouse with six tiny pots that I carefully filled with Miracle-Gro soil, then dropped some seeds in and let nature work her magic. Light was not a problem, since my window received plenty of northern sunlight. After a week, I had sprouts in every pot.
The instructions that came with the greenhouse said that I needed to transfer the plants to bigger pots after four weeks. I almost destroyed the delicate roots of my basil and chives, but they survived the move.
Then they died.The basil leaves started turning dry and brown without warning,and the chive plants started growing pimple-like spheres on the stems. It was heartbreaking to see them go – but it was even more heartbreaking to realize that I didn’t know what do to with the huge bag of soil sitting next to my stove.
City apartments are not conducive to growing small gardens because of a lack of space and light – and, evidently, the potential for plants to become sick. Filling pots and transferring plants at home can be a messy task, even on a fire escape or front stoop.
AeroGrow, a Boulder, Colo., company has taken these shortcomings to heart and designed a machine to help city dwellers and other hopeful gardeners satisfy their green thumbs. The AeroGarden machine is designed with what the company calls “Aeroponic” technology: In other words, it’s an electronic hydroponic garden, in which the roots of plants grow in water. Home gardeners who use hydroponic systems experiment with soluble fertilizers and various containers.
The AeroGarden eliminates the experimental elements of hydroponic gardening. It looks slightly like a transparency machine, with a bottom bowl that holds about three liters of water. The bowl’s lid is covered with seven holes that hold mini-plastic seed pots. Pop the pots in, cover them with a plastic dome to create a humid environment for sprouts, and the garden’s ready to go. A large light hovers over the bowl, emitting about 16 hours of light every day.
Using the AeroGarden is like using a coffee machine, only even more handsoff.Assembling the machine took about 15 minutes, and I was able to set the light cycle to start and end when I wanted. At the start of the initial gardening process, I had to keep an eye out for sprouts to know when I needed to remove the domes. The seed kits came with soluble nutrient tablets that I dropped into the water every two weeks, and the machine alerted me when water and nutrient levels were low with flashing red lights. When everything was set up and I turned the machine on, I stood back proudly: I was finally going to become a successful city gardener.
The AeroGarden is designed to be as non-intrusive as possible. I set the light cycle to turn off at bedtime, and I filled the water bowl whenever I saw the red light alert. My garden came with lettuce seeds: In about a month, I had seven flourishing plants. It was a great excuse to buy kitchen shears, and I began trimming around the perimeter of the garden to start making small salads.
The garden’s output is relatively low. If you want to make a salad for four people, you might end up using most of the plants at once. The AeroGarden is really designed for one or two people and their culinary needs, which might be a drawback to those who live in larger households.
I’m still satisfied, though. I haven’t bought bagged lettuce in weeks, and looking at my plants every day encourages me to eat more greens. There’s something I miss about getting my hands dirty with soil and watering my plants every other day. But for a city girl with barely any time to cut lettuce and tomatoes for a salad in the first place, the AeroGarden is an excellent substitute for a backyard plot.